From 1957 through 1963, my father and I watched Paladin collide with, subtly interface with or adroitly meld with various picaresque characters in the old West circa the 1880's. What strikes me now at age 67 is that . . .a. In a manner similar to Gordon Parks' wonderful book, "A Choice of Weapons," in which the author chose compassion, wit, a sense of humor, patience, charm, resourcefulness and other positives - as opposed to violence - as a means out of the ghetto and upward and onward toward financial, personal and professional success - It strikes me now that Paladin was an exemplary role model for young men, maybe particularly in America of the 1950s and early 1960s - but moreover, now in the age of uncivil gridlock and those who appear desirous to utilize direct military intervention as the panacea for any and all international disputes.b. Paladin as portrayed by Richard Boone strikes me now as a rather Pirandello-esque character looking for and often trying to create a better, more civilized, world with his erudition, his wisdom, and his unwillingness to use his hand gun unless absolutely necessary. Paladin almost always finds himself outnumbered, outgunned, and often betrayed, sabotaged, and either beaten up or nearly killed by a scurvy array of vicious scoundrels, con men and women, roues, and miscreants. He frequently suffers for upholding the noblest of principles. The story "The Protégé" is perhaps the very best illustration of my point. A young man who was bullied turns into a bully himself. In the end, it is the protagonist's own father who confesses to Paladin that the latter proved himself to be the young man's very best friend- even beyond death.c. Rites of passage, naturalistic tragi-comedies, and complex slice-of-life short stories with a moral, "Have Gun Will Travel" was best viewed just before "Gunsmoke," another vehicle for what I view as real, pragmatic family values: e.g. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be trustworthy. Champion and defend women, children, the helpless and the underdog. When I purchased an autographed copy of James Arness's autobiography several years ago, I shared with him my appreciation for the values he inculcated in the heart of this young boy at the time.d. "Have Gun, Will Travel" may have represented an acquired taste for some viewers. Plots were never simplistic. Despite showcasing great writers such as Gene Roddenberry, this show never took the easy road to success. The show was a mighty draw for some of the greatest - albeit then unheralded - actors and actresses who wished to cut their teeth in a show without special effects, focusing, instead on good stories substantiated by excellent writing. With its emphasis on complex characterization and sensitive themes, the show took great creative risks."The Gunfighter and the Princess" is apt illustration of this point. In the space of 30 minutes, minus commercials, Paladin regales an innocent young princess with two profound quotations from Marcus Aurelius, and another by Plato. These utterances focus on man's only responsibility to endure the prison of the self (Aurelius) and the difference, at heart, between anarchy, democracy, aristocracy (Plato). A classics scholar, a former commander of a cavalry unit at Bull Run, Paladin is, nonetheless, a tender, loving man of peace at heart, a renaissance man who impresses ladies with his ability to cook and clean house while honoring honorable people.To call "Have Gun, Will Travel" a western is to miss the point of a deeply philosophical drama, especially one that was filmed during the heating up of the Cold War and interspersed with the generals continually trying to egg Ike into one war after another with places like Quemoy, Matsu, Formosa and others. Like Ike, Paladin knew a better way: Getting along with human differences without resorting to violence. I suspect that like Ike who opined, "I knew those guys in the Pentagon," Paladin was quite familiar with the Dionysian impulse in humanity, that party-hearty urge that leads from narcissism to celebration, exaltation, violence and, ultimately, chaos. Paladin's Apollonian approach involved reason, logic, knowledge and making civilized, more authentic choices involving respect, cooperation and peaceful co-existence. His dialogue is always sprinkled with poignant witticisms from Western and Eastern classical literature and philosophy.This, clearly, is not a show for the passive viewer who merely wishes to see a very superficial portrayal of man-versus man, a mere shoot-em-up. "Have Gun, Will Travel" excelled in penetrating examinations of man-versus society, man versus nature, and, especially, man versus self.The older I become, the more gems and gold ore I find to mine in these seven seasons of "Have Gun, Will Travel."
One of my favorites as a kid and, with episodes being re-run on Encore, delighted how well it holds up. Prefer Boone precisely because he is literate, intelligent, humane as well as humanistic as well as being understatedly masculine. I'd use the word 'Macho', which was current at the time and often used to describe Wayne, Boone and even Roy Rogers but the word's been corrupted by it's own origin - Latin swagger. American Macho, Wayne, Boone, et al was, and is, above all classy. Latin Macho is just silly, like queens (not a put-down) pantomiming ultra-masculinity.Back to the show, I was almost shocked by how intelligent and well written the scripts were. The writers defined the little world each episode took place in and kept to that world tightly, very much like very short short stories. Another surprise was the frequent, also understated, humor.Just finished reading all of the other reviews and really pleased to see how much everyone respects and enjoys this classic. We all seem to be echoing one another; delightful.A final comment: I was surprised by how modern the values were. The episode I recorded today, Don't Shot the Piano Player, is a beautiful mix of the show's elements and highlights its values; Pallidan refuses to speak for his client, and repeated declines a wager until she speaks up to accept it. At the end of the show, having won, there was a dance between him, his client and the guy they were trying to rescue that screamed out, the Individual makes his or her decision and every other Individual has to respect that decision, no matter what they think of it or the Individual making it.A Classic American value whose observance has waxed and waned since Colonial times.
Television has, occasionally, left a worthy mark in our world. Mostly it's what's hot, faddish, trendish and popular at the moment. As years roll by the last "hot" is forgotten and bulldozed over by the current "hot" that pops up in our verbiage until the next "hot thing" takes over. Nothing lasts.This western (it wasn't a western, it just used the western setting for it's pallet, a wise choice) dug into the human condition and unleashed a series of morality plays that retain the power to "thunk our noggins" today.Yes, there's over-pumps to make a point and - yeah Paladin must be a couple hundred years old to have done everything he's done but he is, in a quiet way, one of the original superheroes (would make a great graphic novel.The series addressed issues decades ahead of its time.It was about the black, the white and the gray. And the unpopular ideas.Suggestive, challenging, heroic, humbling and holds its weight today.We could use Paladins today.Good stuff. Damned good stuff.